Mandolin is not a common instrument in jazz ensembles and outside of the world of bluegrass or a Brazilian Choro Ensemble, it is not a common lead instrument. Chris Biesterfeldt is known as a guitarist, but on his self-produced new recording, Urban Mandolin, he handles a variety of jazz and pop tunes leading a trio of mandolin, bass and drums.
On this recording he is accompanied by Adam Armstrong on upright bass and Eric Halvorson on drums on a fairly broad range of material here including jazz classics from Eddie Harris (Freedom Jazz Dance), Jaco Pastorious (Teen Town), Chick Corea’s (Armando’s Rhumba), Thelonious Monk (Bye-ya), Wayne Shorter (Witch Hunt) and Jimmy Smith Back at the Chicken Shack); pop classics like I Can’t Make You Love Me, and God Only Knows); Pixinguinha’s choro classic Segura Ele; and Frank Zappa’s Rollo Interior, that closes this recording
A torrid take on Dizzy Gillespie’s Bebop, opens this recording and immediately establishes how deft and commanding a player Biesterfeldt is with a fast, cleaning picking complemented by Armstrong’s and Halvorson’s lightly played drums. The metallic (tinny) staccato sound of the mandolin lends these performances with a unique tone. There follows a relaxed rendition of Charlie Parker’s Quasimodo that displays exemplary interplay between the leader and Armstrong while Halvoson employs a light touch here.
The mandolin’s brittle, metallic tone may put off some listeners and the trio format perhaps does not work with every single number (Freedom Jazz Dance sounds a bit clunky), but his playing on Bye-Ya is exhilirating. Other high points include the exhilarating Segura Ele, a marvelous rendering of God Only Knows and the invention he brings in his improvisation to Shorter’s Witch Hunt. Biesterfeldt’s adventurous playing throughout Urban Mandolin merits careful and attentive listening.
I received my review copy from a publicist. Here he can be heard playing from the album, Teen Town.